Today I had a mild panic attack because my sister asked if we owned any string. This is not the whole story, but the other details are extraneous. If I told you that at eleven o’clock this morning I was standing on a train station, holding a bottle of Vodka and laughing manically when a commuter (of whose existence I had previously been unaware) had startled the shit out of me, this in itself, even though it’s true, would not explain my reaction to an innocent question. I could add in more details – last night I had a four-hour dream in which I taught Michael Jackson modern philosophy in what I can only assume was Hogwarts – but, like i said, these are extraneous. I just added them in for colour, and to disguise the fact that for the last three days i have had basically nothing to write about – nothing at all. Nada. Zip. Zilch. I’m clutching at straws even now.
My minor panic attack (clammy brow, heavy breathing) was, I have deduced, produced as a result of the content of her question. It is simply too long since I heard the word “string” in any context whatsoever. It frightened me. Mary Higgins Clark once wrote a story called “Voices In The Coal Bin” (shout out to anyone else who knows Mary Higgins Clark) which was about a young couple who go off to the girl’s grandmother’s house for the weekend. The grandmother has long since run up the curtain and joined the choir invisible, if you catch my drift, so it’s a journey of remembrance. This young couple are very much in love and getting on great when the girl mentions that she can hear voices coming from the coal bin outside the kitchen. Gradually she reveals that as a child she had been petrified of the coal bin and the gramaphone recording that summoned them. Over the course of the holiday she becomes more freaked out and paranoid until one morning the boy wakes up to find her gone. The police divers find her floating in the lake. Distraught, the boy starts to mope around the house until, one day, he starts hearing the voices in the coal bin*.
Creepy. The word “string” had a similar effect on me. You can read my scizoid breakdown by casting your eyes to my twitter feed on the right. I should probably explain myself and get to the point before you lose interest completely: string, like sellotape and lego and endless summers, is an aspect of my childhood I’d almost forgotten about. A long time ago (not so long, geologically speaking), contraptions made of cardboard and string and sellotape and lego festooned the house I grew up in. I was forever tying lego figures (or Technik, anybody?) up in string and causing them to abseil down the steep pine stairs of that house, before hauling them back up to do over and over. And here I am having simply forgotten that string is even a thing. I had just ejected the very concept from my mind. The word “string” now seems as anachronistic as “scrimshaw” (the art of carving fine etchings onto Whale teeth, to save you googling it) or “haberdashery”. Sure, we have use of things that tie other things together in my house : elastic bands, bulldog clips, zip ties, rip cords, carabiners, anodised chains…but not string. I haven’t seen string since before the millennium. I don’t know where you buy it. I don’t know how much it costs. Is it expensive or cheap? Do you have to order it in special? Or in bulk? Is it flammable? Does it smell? Can you eat it?
These questions and many more i will likely never know the answer to (unless you do know, in which case, drop me a line). My point, if I even have one – it’s doubtful – is that things are moving very quickly. Do you remember dial-up internet? Do you remember the age of hang-ups and disconnections, of lag times and ping times in the milliseconds? Do you remember the burning hiss of the modem connecting? Bneeee—murrrrrrrr-neeeuuuurrrrrpppppppffffffffsshhhh! There was a time when we were only allowed an hour a day on the internet because the phone company charged a penny a minute for dial-up. I’m not sure this was ever really true : I now spend so much time connected that my existence as an entity separate from the internet is seriously under question. There was a time – fuck me, I’d almost forgotten – that mobile phones were mobile phones and just that. My first mobile phone could only write text messages in all-capital letters. Now my phone is substantially smarter than me. “String”, to return to my original example, merely serves to remind me of my personal history with technology, which includes something as basic as string. I spent the first six years of my life with only intermittent contact with a television. My first television was black & white and had to be tuned manually. These are the personal histories we weave with technology. These are how much things change in such a short span of time.
A couple of weeks back I had to sign a form for somebody – it was either a requisition for yellowcake uranium or a love letter written in blood, I forget – and this simple act of putting pen to paper was unfamiliar and sort of exciting. They asked me, first of all, if I had a pen, to which I responded by looking at them like a dog who’d just been shown a card trick. I don’t own a pen. I haven’t owned a pen since I stole two hundred logo’d pens from my university (one of many reasons I can’t get a recommendation). Finally they produced a pencil – a piece of wood filled with carbon! – and I gripped it between fingers more used to knocking out sixty rubbishy words a minute on a keyboard. It was bizarre, alien, and mysteriously erotic. It was – what’s the word – sensual. I’m thinking of doing it more often.
In summary, we didn’t have any string. God, what a waste of an anecdote that was. Good evening to you.
*I’m pretty sure this is the plot. I can’t check because no summary seems to exist online. If this isn’t the plot then it must be a dream I had.